During Father’s Day in June, UNICEF initiated a “Super Dads” campaign in recognition of the significant role fathers play in their children’s growth and development.
UNICEF Cambodia also made a video reminding that fathers have huge impact in their children and in the society. When fathers are directly and personally involved in their children’s lives as early as possible, the children will learn better and grow up to be healthier and happier human beings.
However, it’s a common misconception that the father’s sole responsibility to the family is merely to provide, to be the breadwinner. In most families, it is a father’s job to work and financially support his wife and his children; and more often than not, Cambodian fathers become so busy with their works that the mothers are left alone to take care of the children and the household.
In a parenting seminar in 2014, many participants cited the traditional gender roles in Cambodian families – fathers earning money and mother s staying at home.
The Investing in Children and their Societies (ICS), the organiser of the seminar, reported, “traditionally, fathers are ‘scared’ of small babies. They are not involved in care-taking during the first 6-12 months after birth. They start playing with the children – if they are not too tired from work and if they want to – when the baby starts to walk.”
Improving Cambodia’s Society through Skillful Parenting (ICS-SP), a programme by ICS, invited participants to join their training to help parents better raise their children in positive ways. In their 2015 report, ICS-SP revealed that the participation of fathers is limited because of their work schedules.
Fathers tend to overlook the importance of their presence in their children’s lives, often choosing to focus on working for their future. Many fathers do not know that their absence poses a great impact on the children’s well-being, both mentally and physically.
Researchers have found that children growing up without direct close interaction with fathers struggle with behavioural problems, mental disorders, poor academic performance, violence and drug abuse.
Meas, a girl who grew up without a father figure, said that life was hard for her financially and mentally. She said, “I was so down that when I was young, I liked to stay alone in the dark. I thought that I was mentally ill but I’m also glad that it was not that bad to the point of being suicidal.”
Living with her grandparents and mother helped her cope with the absence of her father. Meas accepted her own reality, but was still envious of other kids. She said, “The presence of a father is very important for children even though most kids need mothers more than their fathers. Without a father, it is very hard not only financially but also in the mental well-being of the children.”
Dr David Popenoe, a sociologist specialising in fathers and fatherhood research, said that “involved fathers bring positive benefits to their children that no other person is as likely to bring.”
Mr Khan Chenda, an English lecturer, is a father to his three-and-half-year-old Lincoln. As a father, he gives time and effort to take care of his son. He said it is important for him to spend his time with Lincoln because he wants his son to learn from him.
“Staying only with just the mother or just the father is also not good. It needs to be balance,” he said. “Don’t let only the mother take care of the kids all day, and the father only shows up for few minutes. Fathers need to spend time with their children for hours.”
Children with involved and caring fathers have better educational outcomes. A number of studies suggest that fathers who are involved, nurturing, and playful with their infants have children with higher IQs, as well as better linguistic and cognitive capacities.
Research suggests that effective fathering has seven dimensions including fostering a positive relationship with the children’s mother, spending time with children, nurturing children, disciplining children appropriately, serving as a guide to the outside world, protecting and providing, serving as a positive role model. Fathers may not excel in all seven dimensions, but fathers who do well in most of them will serve their children and families well.